My daughter has struggled with a Bartonella infection for nine years, so I feel compelled to challenge the “ignorance is bliss” message Elizabeth Licorish delivered in "Please don't freak out about Cat Scratch Disease." Drama is never an apt response, but knowing the potential consequences of a Bartonella infection and taking precautions is advisable.
Bartonella causes similar symptoms as Lyme disease but requires different treatment so is important to identify. However, the biggest concern Bartonella poses over Lyme disease is most physicians are entirely unaware of this prevalent bacteria.
You probably thought cat scratch fever was just a song or no big deal. But it turns out that a simple claw mark from the family feline can send you to the hospital, or worse.
The neighbor’s dog, your kid’s cat, and the fleas in the front yard could all have Bartonella.
The study will look at hidden bacteria known as Bartonella, a vector-borne pathogen that many Americans may carry. Bartonella can cause Bartonellosis, an infectious disease that can affect the brain, eyes, heart, and other organs. Bartonellosis can cause depression, anxiety, OCD, and encephalitis (which can result in seizures and coma).
Like Lyme disease, Bartonellosis is increasing in prevalence and can also go undiagnosed due to lack of awareness.
The No. 1 thing in fleas that could make you sick as a veterinarian or the owner is actually Bartonella. We think about it as cat scratch fever, but it actually gets on their claws from the flea dirt.
The genus Bartonella is also unusual because it appears that no other infectious agent is transmitted by more vectors. We now know that sand flies, human body lice, cat fleas, rodent fleas, and probably many other flea species are capable of transmitting certain Bartonella species. And cattle, deer, elk, and sheep all have their own Bartonella species that appear to be transmitted by biting flies or keds (wingless flies).
The microbe that is known to cause cat scratch fever remains cloaked in mystery. Do the bacteria that cause cat scratch disease—a typically mild illness with flulike symptoms—also cause chronic fatigue syndrome?
Bartonella bacteria are highly evolved, survive in multiple insect vectors and in dessicated flea feces, and enter our bodies in a stealth-like manner, switching off our immune response as it takes residence in our tissues.
“If you were going to design the perfect pathogen to hide
under the radar, Bartonella would be a good model,” he says.
Compare it, for example, to covid-19, which he describes as
a “frontal pathogen,” meaning the virus immediately attacks and
tries to overwhelm its victim’s immune system. That way, it can
cause rapid spread through respiratory secretions.
Bartonellosis consists of a large group of infections caused by Bartonella species. Bartonella are ubiquitous bacteria that can be transmitted by the bites of a broad range of arthropod vectors (in other words, bug bites) and by contact with body fluids and tissues from infected animals. Some bugs that spread bartonella include fleas, lice, ticks, and biting flies.
Several species of Bartonella bacteria cause disease in people. Infection with any one of these bacteria is referred to broadly as bartonellosis, although some forms of infection also have common names (for example, cat scratch disease). Bartonella bacteria are spread to humans by fleas, body lice, sand flies, or contact with flea-infested animals.
Human diseases that have been identified to be caused by one of the Bartonella spp bacteria include cat scratch disease (Bartonella henselae), Carrion’s disease (Bartonella bacilliformis), and trench fever (Bartonella quintana).
Bartonellosis is the term used to describe any infectious disease produced by the bacteria Bartonella. These include trench fever, Oroya fever, Carrion's disease cat scratch disease, peliosis hepatis, etc.
Transmission of B. henselae from cats to humans is thought to occur through contamination of scratches and bites (broken skin) with flea dirt (i.e. partially digested blood from the infected animal that is excreted by fleas = flea poop). Infection in individuals with weakened immune systems can be extremely serious or even fatal. In otherwise healthy people, the infection tends to remain localized, but can still cause massive swelling and abscessation of local lymph nodes.